Case 39 Review: Problem Child


CASE 39 (15): On General Release Friday 5th March

If you want more proof that children are evil soulless monsters, then look no further, as Case 39 provides more than enough reason to stay sprog free.

Social worker Emily (Renee Zellweger) is buried in work, so she’s none too pleased when yet another case file lands on her desk. But curiosity gets the better of her and she opens the documents to what is apparently another routine abuse claim.

She visits the house of Lilith (horror movie rule #78 – when you find out a character’s name is Lilith, you know they’re going to be trouble), a seemingly innocent girl that’s been subjected to serious psychological abuse from her creepy parents.

Lilith implores Emily to consider being her foster parent, to which she reluctantly agrees. But predictably Lilith turns out to be more than Emily bargained for when those close to her start meeting gruesome ends.

The film has its moments – a scene in which Lilith’s parents toss her in the oven is genuinely unsettling and for the first half, it looks as if we’re going to get a movie with a little more imagination than your average schlock scream-fest. But just as you think it might have some tricks up its sleeve, it hits Cliché City outer limits and becomes just another dumb, forgettable horror.

Renee Zellweger is fine as an earnest social worker but when the film turns nasty, she struggles to be believably terrified – her screeches are more annoying than fear-inspiring. And when the film requires her to get tough she’s equally unconvincing – it’s like being threatened by a kicked puppy.

Quite why Lilith is intent on tormenting people is also a bit of mystery – childish pique isn’t a very satisfying motivator. And if they wanted with “she’s just plain evil” it would have been better if it simply gone down Drag Me To Hell’s rollercoaster balls-to-the-wall horror route.

Supporting cast Bradley Cooper and Ian McShane turn up in love-interest psychiatrist and friendly detective roles but are quickly relegated to targets for the vengeful little beast. There’s a guilty pleasure to be had from Bradley Cooper being called “facile and smug” by a 10 year old girl, but it’s utterly ridiculous that his character would actually be bothered by this.

The problem is that once the film commits to the fact that the child is a demon, it needs to reach some kind of resolution. And after that becomes clear, there’s only one way the film can go –to a predictably tired and hackneyed conclusion which offers no surprises and few scares.